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Fossil fuel support is rising again in a threat to climate change efforts

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Fossil-fuel subsidies are environmentally harmful, costly, and distortive. After a 3 years downward trend between 2013 and 2016, government support for fossil fuel production and use has risen again, in a threat to efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and the transition to cleaner and cheaper energy. Support across 76 countries increased by 5% to USD 340 billion in 2017, according to a new OECD-IEA report prepared for the G20.

OECD-IEA Update on Recent Progress in Reform of Inefficient Fossil Fuel Subsidies that Encourage Wasteful Consumption also shows that even in the group of 44 OECD and G20 countries, where fossil fuel support is still declining, the reduction has slowed down. Support in these countries was down 9% in 2017, a slower decline than the 12% recorded in 2016 and 19% in 2015.

The reversal comes as some countries reinstated stronger price controls on fossil fuels, in response to volatility in international oil prices, which made it harder to continue energy pricing and taxation reforms. 

Some progress has nonetheless been made: the report finds that many countries, including Argentina, India, Indonesia and several Middle Eastern and Northern African economies, have continued to take steps to reduce support for energy consumption. Western Europe has completed its phasing out of hard-coal subsidies and efforts continue to end state aid to coal-fired power generation in the European Union.

Oil and gas industries in several countries, however, continue to benefit from government incentives, mostly through tax provisions that provide preferential treatment for cost recovery. Such policies go against domestic efforts to reduce emissions.

The report was presented to G20 energy officials ahead of the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment in Karuizawa, Japan, where countries reiterated their commitment to phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and encouraged countries that have not done so to volunteer for a Peer Review.

“This new OECD-IEA report signals a worrying slowdown in our efforts to phase out fossil fuel subsidies,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “The critical nature of the climate change crisis has never been clearer than it is today. Countries should be accelerating their reforms, not taking their feet off the pedal. We cannot promote inclusive and sustainable growth if we continue subsidising fossil fuels!”

The report combines the IEA’s price-gap approach to capture the transfer to consumers of policies that keep fossil fuels below reference prices and the OECD’s 2019 Inventory of Support Measures for Fossil Fuels, which takes stock of spending programmes and tax breaks used in the 36 OECD countries and eight emerging countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa) to encourage fossil fuel production or use. These include measures that reduce prices for consumers or that lower exploration and exploitation costs for oil and gas companies.

Increasing transparency on the use of scarce public resources can help to keep up momentum for fossil fuel subsidy reform. Building on the evidence brought to the table by the OECD, G20 countries committed in Pittsburgh in 2009 to “rationalise and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.” Since then G20 countries – China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico and the United States – have completed voluntary G20 Peer Reviews of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and Argentina and Canada are just starting theirs. The OECD has been asked to play Secretariat role for all the country reviews, to chair and facilitate these processes, which have to date evaluated more than 100 government interventions relating to the production and use of fossil fuels.

“OECD evidence leaves no doubt” says Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa – “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies undermine global efforts to tackle climate change, aggravate local pollution, and are a strain on public budgets, draining scarce fiscal resources that could be invested in education, skills, and physical infrastructure. We urge all G20 countries to keep up the effort, and join the voluntary G20 Peer Reviews of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

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MENA Faces Another Year of Subdued Growth, with Bolder Reforms Needed to Boost Private Sector

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Economic growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is projected to slow to 0.6% this year compared with 1.2% last year, according to a new World Bank report. The growth forecast for 2019 is revised down by 0.8 percentage points from the April 2019 projection due to lower oil prices since April 2019 and a larger-than expected contraction in Iran. MENA’s economic outlook is subject to substantial downside risks—most notably, intensified global economic headwinds and rising geopolitical tensions.

The latest edition of the MENA Economic Update titled “Reaching New Heights: Promoting Fair Competition in the Middle East and North Africa” discusses the current sluggish growth due to conservative oil production outputs, weak global demand for oil, and a larger-than-expected contraction in Iran. On the other hand, a boost in non-oil activities in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates), most prominently in construction, partially offset the dampening effect on the region’s average growth numbers as a result of Iran’s economic contraction.

Egypt’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) continues to lead growth in the region as its overall macroeconomic environment has improved following the country’s exchange rate, fiscal, and energy reforms. As a result, Egypt’s economy grew to 5.4% in the first half of 2019, up from 5.2% in 2018.

“Countries in the region have implemented bold reforms to restore macroeconomic stability, but the projected growth rate is a fraction of what is needed to create enough jobs for the fast-growing, working-age population,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa region. “It is time for courageous and far-sighted leadership to deepen the reforms, to bring down the barriers to competition and to unlock the enormous potential of the region’s 400 million people as a source of collective demand that could drive growth and jobs.

In the medium-term, the World Bank expects real GDP in the MENA region to grow at 2.6% in 2020 and 2.9% in 2021. The projected pickup in growth is largely driven by increasing infrastructure investment in GCC countries and the recovery in Iran’s economy as the effects of current sanctions wane.

However, the report warns that a further escalation in regional tensions could severely weaken Iran’s economy and spill over to other countries in the region. While rising oil prices would benefit many regional oil exporters in the short run, the overall impact would be to hurt regional trade, investment, and spending on infrastructure.

In addition to providing economic growth forecasts for each country, the report highlights how unfair competition results from markets dominated by state-owned enterprises and politically-connected firms which deters private investment, reducing the number of jobs and preventing countless talented young people from prospering.

“The lack of fair competition is holding back the development of the region’s private sector, which history has shown to be the source of broad-based growth and jobs,” said Rabah Arezki, World Bank MENA Chief Economist. “Countries in the region have an opportunity to transform their economies by levelling the economic playing field, and creating business environments that encourage risk-taking and reward innovation and higher productivity.”

Unleashing regional demand accompanied by arm’s length regulation that fosters competition and fights anti-competitive practices could prevent the perpetuation of oligarchies—the powerful few who often seize control of liberalization attempts, with the unfortunate result that the idea of reform is sullied among the citizens. The report calls for strengthening competition laws and enforcement agencies. It also calls for more efficient management leading to potential corporatizing of state-owned enterprises, promoting the private sector, and setting up watchdogs to rebalance contestability between them.

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Pension Policies Must Keep Up with Rapidly Aging Societies

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A new publication on pension reform examines nonfinancial defined contribution (NDC) pension schemes as an approach to help policymakers meet the challenges brought on by rapidly aging populations and the changing nature of work, says the World Bank. In a world in which working lives will be increasingly longer, and demands for social care services will expand, pension systems will need to be reformed to ensure workers are protected and do not fall into poverty in old age.

Titled “Progress and Challenges of Nonfinancial Defined Contribution Pension Schemes”, this publication brings together evidence on NDCs pension schemes and reforms more broadly to bear on today’s labor market. NDC is a type of public pension system in which workers pay contributions to finance the benefits of current retirees, similar to traditional public pension schemes. However, unlike the latter, the NDC approach factors in automatic adjustments based on demographic changes, a key advantage given the increased aging and decreased fertility in many societies today. Over the past decades, NDCs have emerged as a key tenet in global thinking about pensions, as this framework ensures more efficient and effective social risk sharing, and better public resource allocation.

The unique feature in the NDC framework is a built-in design that achieves affordability, financial sustainability, and intergenerational fairness,” said Robert Holzmann, Governor for the Austrian National Bank and one of two lead editors of the volume. “With individual accounts come transparent information on the interaction of individuals’ decisions to work and pay contributions and their own roles in determining their future pension outcomes,” he said.

An NDC framework also allows countries to address poverty in the aging population, if it is accompanied by a well-thought out complement to provide a safety net for the elderly. “Special efforts must be devoted to constructing a zero pillar to address poverty in old age,” said Edward Palmer, Professor of Social Insurance Economics at Uppsala University, Sweden, and the other lead editor of the volume. “This ensures that people with low lifetime incomes, such as those who work predominantly in “unremunerated home care” and otherwise in the informal market economy – typically in emerging but also in developed economies – are provided with adequate basic protection in old age,” From this standpoint, governments have a key role to play in providing a basic level of pension to prevent poverty in old age. 

The lessons from theory and practice contained in this book will help us all find better responses to the biggest challenges of the current time: adapting the social protection systems to the challenges of aging populations and the changing labor markets and contributing to human capital for the current and future generations,” said Michal Rutkowski, Global Director of the World Bank Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice. “The World Bank’s vision is one in which social insurance is extended to all workers, independently of how they engage in the labor market,” said Rutkowski.

The recent World Bank white paper on “Protecting All: Risk-Sharing in a Diverse and Diversifying World” proposes an approach to worker protection and social security that is better adapted to an increasingly diverse and fluid world of work, and the NDC approach to pensions represents a framework that is individually financed and considered “actuarially fair”.

Based on a 2017 Rome conference by INNAP, funded by the Swedish Pension Agency, and published by the World Bank Group, this new anthology documents twenty years of country experiences where NDC pension schemes were introduced, and addresses specific dimensions of pension policies under this scheme, such as poverty, labor market, family and gender, and longevity. It includes 31 contributions from academics, practitioners, policy makers, and experts in pensions and social policy.

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Small businesses and self-employed provide most jobs worldwide

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Self-employment, micro and small enterprises play a far more important role in providing jobs than previously believed, according to new International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates.

Data gathered in 99 countries found that these so-called ‘small economic units’ together account for 70 per cent of total employment, making them by far the most important drivers of employment.

The findings have “highly relevant” implications for policies and programmes on job creation, job quality, start-ups, enterprise productivity and job formalization, which, the report says, need to focus more on these small economic units.

The study also found that an average of 62 per cent of employment in these 99 countries is in the informal sector, where working conditions in general tend to be inferior, (i.e. a lack of social security, lower wages, poor occupational safety and health and weaker industrial relations). The informality level varies widely, ranging from more than 90 per cent in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Madagascar to less than five per cent in Austria, Belgium, Brunei Darussalam and Switzerland.

The information is published in a new ILO report, Small matters: Global evidence on the contribution to employment by the self-employed, micro-enterprises and SMEs .

The report finds that in high-income countries, 58 per cent of total employment is in small economic units, while in low and middle-income countries the proportion is considerably higher. In countries with the lowest income levels the proportion of employment in small economic units is almost 100 per cent, the report says.

The estimates draw on national household and labour force surveys, gathered in all regions except North America, rather than using the more traditional source of enterprise surveys that tend to have more limited scope.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that the employment contribution of so-called small economic units has been estimated, in comparative terms, for such a large group of countries, particularly low and middle income countries,” said Dragan Radic, Head of the ILO’s Small and Medium Enterprises Unit.

The report advises that supporting small economic units should be a central part of economic and social development strategies. It highlights the importance of creating an enabling environment for such businesses, ensuring that they have effective representation and that social dialogue models also work for them.

Other recommendations include; understanding how enterprise productivity is shaped by a wider “ecosystem“, facilitating access to finance and markets, advancing women’s entrepreneurship, and encouraging the transition towards the formal economy and environmental sustainability.

Micro-enterprises are defined as having up to nine employees, while small enterprises have as many as 49 employees.

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